Play: empowering children's lives

The purpose of this thesis project is to develop a program, consisting of training sessions and a manual through which preschool teachers will learn ways of working with children with autism to increase social interactions. A manual will be created so that teachers can have an educational tool, to refer back to, after they have completed the instructional trainings. In the trainings preschool teachers will acquire the knowledge needed to work with children with autism. They will be taught methods and strategies for working with and encouraging play in high functioning preschool children with autism. Literature supports the notion that adults need to see an obvious connection between what they are learning and real life events. Through incorporation of the training sessions and the manual, participants will learn how effective strategies are in assisting them in the classroom setting. In doing so, teachers will be able to take what they have learned and apply it to their own lives. Research has demonstrated that the one characteristic exhibited in almost all children with autism is their apparent lack of social-communicative gestures and utterances therefore making it difficult for these children to be able to interact and play with their teachers and peers (Koegel, Koegel, Frea & Smith, 2000). However, if a teacher has the knowledge and skills needed to be able to facilitate social-communication interactions among the children then everyone in the classroom benefits. Research suggests that there is strong evidence that children with developmental delays can most efficiently learn age-appropriate behavior from an environment of similarly aged typical peer models (Koegel, Koegel, Frea & Smith, 2000). It also appears that children with severe social impairments can best learn to socialize if they are in an environment that provides a significant number of appropriate opportunities for social interactions (Guralnick & Groom, 1988; Stainback, & Forest, 1989). If acceptance by peers is a critical factor in child development, then segregation from typically developing peers is likely to be a detrimental and further disabling experience for any child. Therefore, having teachers in preschools knowledgeable on how to motivate the children with autism to respond to social and environmental stimulation and teaching the children to respond to complex multiple cues will benefit the children with autism and allow them to begin making friendships. A manual was developed to teach preschool teachers how to facilitate social interactions of children with high functioning autism with their peers. The manual will detail in length social intervention strategies and will give teachers a reference to refer back to. The manual will explore the following topic areas: child development, play, autism and intervention strategies. The manual was outlined, for quick references and contains the major points of the manual. An evaluation form was developed to critique the manual in the areas of description, content, objectives and program clarity. A panel of six experts was chosen based on the following minimum criteria: 1. Minimum teaching experience, 1 academic year with integrated classroom or 2. Minimum of 5 years experience working with preschool children. Once the evaluations were received the author reviewed and evaluated the comments to make the final revision of the manual. Recommendations have been created for those who wish to develop a program and for preschool administrators as to the reasons why they should implement the program.